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Managing MSCA-ITN project during the COVID-19 pandemic



The Research Executive Agency (REA), responsible for the management of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), has sent an email with general information on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic within MSCA projects to all Innovative Training Networks (ITN) Coordinators on 4 March 2020 that has been published on their official website on 16 March 2020. The main message is clear:

The REA is aware of the possible implications that the COVID-19 outbreak could have on the implementation of MSCA projects. Coordinators and beneficiaries alike should decide on the course of action themselves. The REA recommends that institutional and national schemes should be followed. Should the current situation prevent the fulfilment of obligations laid down in the grant agreement, the REA may adopt a flexible approach and apply the rules on force majeure foreseen. Coordinators should inform their Project Officer in cases where implementation problems arise.

Of all Horizon 2020 funded projects, ITNs are especially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as international mobility is a vital part of the training programme. Many meetings and trainings have had to be cancelled or postponed and secondments cannot take place as planned. Thus, many uncertainties arise.

We at accelopment have been getting a lot of questions from both beneficiaries and Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) and after getting in touch with the Head of the MSCA ITN unit, we have received some answers to the most important questions and would like to share these with you here.

Recruitment

The REA recommends that recruitment should be postponed to a time where working conditions are back to normal. In cases when the ESRs are scheduled to start their activities soon but would not be able to do so because of the current situation, the starting dates should be adapted.

Secondments

Because of the travel restrictions imposed by many governments and institutions, secondments may be rescheduled. Should an ESR currently on secondment request to return to their country of origin, it is in the responsibility of the beneficiary and the host institution to agree or not. The security and safety of the fellows should be your first concern.

Deviations to secondments as laid down in the grant agreement may be assessed by the REA on a case-by-case basis and may apply the rules of force majeure (Art. 51 of the Model Grant Agreement) if acceptable. Cases of ESRs not being able to fulfil the 30% planned secondments rule or the 50% rule for EID projects may be acceptable to the REA under such circumstances. However, the coordinator and all beneficiaries should ensure that they do everything in their possibility to prevent such a situation. The REA will assess such cases closely.

Description of Action

As many institutions have closed and most, including ESRs, are working from home at the moment, work plans may have to be adapted. The REA recommends that tasks may be shifted when they currently cannot be worked on. ESRs may work on their thesis, on papers or shift to telework when possible. Remote supervision is deemed acceptable by the REA.

The coordinator should notify the Project Officer if major deviations to the work plan are needed, as they would make an amendment to the grant agreement necessary.

Beneficiaries should also note, that, should an ESR be absent from work for more than 30 consecutive days for reasons other than annual leave, the time cannot be charged to the action and must be removed from the financial statement by adapting the researcher declaration in the continuous reporting on the Funding & Tenders Portal. But following a case-by-case assessment, the rule of force majeure could be applied in case ESRs were unable to work on the project, but were paid by their beneficiaries.

Cancellation of events

Non-essential meetings/events should be held via video-conference, postponed or cancelled. The cost of cancelling planned events, meetings or secondments can be covered by the fixed allowance available in the grant. However, the EU contribution will not be increased in any case.

Reporting

No changes to deadlines for periodic reports are so far foreseen. Any deviations to the work plan caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should be included in the periodic report. Should a consortium be unable to submit a periodic report on time due to the current situation, please get in touch with your Project Officer as soon as possible.

Project extensions

Coordinators and beneficiaries are advised to work together to ensure that all planned activities can be implemented during the planned duration of the project, even if delayed. Once the situation has stabilised, extensions might be granted to allow the implementation of delayed project tasks, events, meetings, and/or secondments. Again, such cases will be assessed by the REA on a case-by-case basis.